Monthly Archives: November 2010

Basler Läckerli

Part two of what I am envisaging as a “Twelve Days of Christmas Baking” series. Whether I make it to twelve recipes is not yet clear, but you can be sure that spices, citrus and nuts will be featuring rather a lot in the coming weeks…

Previously we were in Germany, and today we cross the Alps to Switzerland for a sweet called Basler Läckerli, which I have rather badly translated as “Basel Treat”. And it look like this:

This is basically a traybake, glazed for that festive wintry “frosty” look, then left somewhere for a couple of days to soften slightly. The result is spicy, sweet and chewy, and rather unfortunately, very more-ish. The Swiss are very proud of this little confection, which traces its origins back to the Basel Council of 1431 to 1449 to keep the great and the good going for the duration. You don’t keep making it for 600 years if it isn’t tasty.

This is not a true Lebkuchen that you see at Christmas, but it is similar enough to feature in this year’s Christmas bake-fest. It is a tasty treat made with lots of honey, nuts, candied citrus and spices, and it is also relatively quick and simple, sort of a pour-in-a-tray-then-bake-and-slice sort of thing. It’s also great fun to make. Melt the sugar and the honey, then add things little by little, making a great, big, sticky mass.

I also used this as a chance to use up some of the different types of honey that were lingering in the back of the baking cupboard. For the honey, I searched similar recipes online, and these suggested trying a more robust, flavourful honey, ideally one that was over a year old. So it was a toss-up between light acacia honey, or the odd amounts of random things in the cupboard. Well, random won out. I had some thyme honey from Crete, whose flavour was too strong when I bought it a couple of years ago. Well, after all that time in a dark corner of the kitchen, it had mellowed into something altogether smoother, and really quite tasty too (*). In it went. I made up the remainder  with a mixture of Scottish heather honey and orange blossom honey.

I also kept the spices rather modest here. I have a lot (a lot) of Christmas cookies, and there is a point at which too much spice can be a bad thing for some people. In the interests of friends who are not the cinnamon fiend that I am, I went easy and ended up with cookies that are more nutty-citrus than some of the other festive bakes.

Just a little note about the recipe: it looks tricky, but actually it is quite easy, just adding things to the pot in the right order and stirring. The golden rule is that once you’re trying to work with the dough, just forget trying to roll it out. There is not enough flour to make it workable. Instead, be sure to use slightly oiled hands, which will magically stop all the stickiness. I also found this time that a metal tray worked better than a silpat sheet. Just my luck!

And finally…once you have baked, glazed, sliced and allowed the Läckerli to cool, you might notice the edges get hard very quickly. Easy to fix – pop everything in a tupperware box for a couple of days once cool, which will allow the aromas to develop, and the Läckerli will become soft and utterly yummy!

To make Basler Läckerli (for 2 trays, 35-40 pieces):

For the dough:

• 450g honey
• 300g white sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon(*)
• pinch ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 100g candied orange peel, finely chopped
• 100g candied lemon peel, finely chopped
• 100g almonds, roughly chopped
• 100g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
• zest of 1 lemon
• 100ml kirsch (or water)
• 600g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the glaze

• 150g icing sugar
• 3 tablespoons kirsch (or water)

Prepare two baking sheets with a little vegetable oil or non-stick spray, and sprinkle with a little flour.

Place the honey, sugar and spices in a large pan. Heat gently until the sugar melts, and remove from the heat. Add the candied citrus peel, the nuts and the lemon zest and stir well.

Next, add the kirsch and stir to soften the mixture. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well until you have a smooth dough. It will be thick, but still very sticky.

Place half of the warm dough on each baking sheet. Rub your hands with a little oil or non-stick spray, then press the dough out to just less than 1 cm thick. It is not essential to go right to the edges, and leaving a gap will make it easier to cut the Läckerli later. Finally, use a very lightly oiled rolling-pin or glass to smooth the top of the dough.

Leave the dough to rest for several hours, or overnight. The next day, bake the Läckerli in a preheated oven at 220 °C (430 °F) for 15 minutes. The Läckerli will be slightly puffy and golden.

While the dough is baking, prepare the icing. Mix the icing sugar and kirsch/water until smooth, and once the Läckerli is cooked, brush with the icing. Straight away, cut off the rough edges, and slice the Läckerli into rectangles (aim for 3 x 5cm). Remove from the baking sheets and leave to cool. The icing should dry and turn a little “frosty”.

Store in an airtight container for a couple of days to soften and allow the flavours to develop before eating.

(*) This is not the first time that I have left honey that had a strange taste to sit, only to return more than a year later to find the flavour mellowed and much improved. Not that the flavour gets weaker, it does develop.

(**) If you like more cinnamon, feel free to add an extra teaspoon. I didn’t want a very strong taste this time, so kept it purposely low.

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Pfeffernüsse

A few days ago, I made a spice mixture to use in Christmas cookies. All very nice, but now for the real fun – actually making the cookies!

These are a version of the classic German Pfeffernüsse, literally “pepper nuts” (*) which are soft, spicy biscuits made with honey. They come in all manner of varieties – from dry and crisp to soft, some covered in chocolate, some with a little jam in the middle. This recipe if the softer type, which you can finish off as you want, but I like the plain sugar glaze. The trick with these biscuits is to brush them with icing while they are still hot, so the icing melts a little bit, and when they cool down, you get a “frosty” look for the full winter theme.

While I wax lyrically about home-made Pfeffernüsse, I must confess to a soft spot for the ones you buy, all uniformly round, with crisp, brittle, brilliant white icing. Those biscuits are more like gingerbread, both dry and soft, and are the sort of biscuits that we would have at home as a treat at Christmas. And I mean as a treat – there was one shop in Montrose (where my grandmother lived) where the German owner would order in a selection of Christmas goodies for the festive season. I knew that the festive season had started when these spicy biscuits appeared on the shelves and we were finally allowed to buy some.

But here we are all about cooking, so back to the home-made stuff. You can play around with the spices a little bit to get something that suits your taste, but I like to use the proper spice mixture, as you get different notes in these biscuits, from warm cinnamon to aromatic cloves and aniseed. You also add a generous pinch of pepper, but be careful not to add too much – the flavour of these cookies will develop over time, so be judicious in using the spicy stuff. If anything, err on the side of caution. The mixture itself is quite simple – make a honey-sugar syrup, allow to cool, mix in the spices and an egg, then add flour to make a sticky dough. This is a great one to make with kids, as it is satisfyingly sticky and messy, and quite quick to make.

When I made these, I finally also got the knack of using my silpat cooking mat. First, it needs to sit on a normal metal tray. Obvious, you might think, but I was under the impressing that it wasn’t required. Yup, I can be that dumb sometimes. Next, don’t use the smooth, shiny side, and coat the textured side with a little oil or butter. Again, seems obvious, but I assumed that this wasn’t needed as silicone is non-stick. But now I have learned, and was so impressed how easily the cookies came off the mat. No longer do I spend time chip-chip-chipping away at the cold cookies to remove them from the metal. So easy!

One point to note is that it really is worth icing these biscuits as soon as they come out of the oven. They should be hot. Brush them thinly with icing, then once you’ve done them all, start again to give them all a second coat. As you can see below, the cookies look quite different when you first glaze them – a little dull – but then they magically take on their frosty wintery appearance. Ho ho ho!

To make Pfeffernüsse (makes around 30):

• 150g honey (I used orange blossom)
• 100g sugar
• 1 teaspoon Lebkuchen spices(**)
• 2 large pinches ground white pepper
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon water/rose water
• 300g plain flour
• 80g icing sugar
• 4 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Lightly great a metal tray or silpat sheet.

Put the honey and sugar in a pan. Heat gently until the honey is fluid and the sugar has dissolved.Add the Lebkuchen spices and pepper to the honey, stir well, and remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Stir the water/rose water into the cooled honey mixture (it should become much softer), then add the egg and baking powder, and mix until smooth. Don’t add the egg when the mixture is too hot, or it will turn to spicy omelette (yuk!).

Finally, add the flour and mix into a soft dough.

Use your hands to form the dough into balls of 2-3cm diameter (aim for size of an shelled walnut).

Place the dough onto a greased baking tray, and bake for 10-12 minutes until the cookies are slightly puffed and very lightly golden.

While the cookies are in the oven, prepare the glaze. Combine the icing sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Once the cookies are out of the oven, brush the top of each with the glaze. Once you’ve done all the cookies, give them a second coat while still warm.

Allow the icing to dry (overnight is best), then store in an airtight container – the aroma of the spices will develop with time.

(*) Tes – so sorry for yet more almost-unpronounceable names!

(**) If you prefer, use your own combination of any of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, mace, coriander or aniseed – but 3/4 should be cinnamon.

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Eve’s Pudding

I know, I know, I promise all this festive stuff, and then it’s all apples, apples, apples as far as you can see. But apples are in season, and it’s all good, so that’s not bad thing in the greater scheme of things, surely?

Eve’s Pudding is one of the first desserts I ever learned to make. I love it, but I don’t know if that is just nostalgia? Probably it isn’t, because people seem to like it when I serve it up. The name, predictably enough, comes from Eve as in Garden-of-Eden, linking back to her pinching forbidden fruit (which were not, as people often say, apples, but close enough). It dates back to the early 1800s, and is a simple dish of stewed apples, topped with a Victoria sponge mixture, so you end up with fluffy, soft apples with pillowly soft cake on top. Yummy!

This can be made either as one large dessert, or as individual puddings. I had been bemoaning the lack of ramekin dishes in my kitchen, so making this pudding was the perfect chance to go out and buy some. On the first attempt, I found some rather fetching ones in the sale section of Habitat on Regent’s Street in central London. You don’t see it here, but they have pixellated images of aubergines, beetroot and carrots at the bottom. I like that when you’ve scoffed dessert, there is a little picture to greet you, and these would say: eat more veg, you pudding monster!

Eve’s Pudding is, in my view, a really nice way to finish a meal. Because it is mostly apple (i.e. fruit), it is relatively light. If you keep any additional sugar to a minimum, you have a lovely combination of sharp fruit with soft, golden sponge. Aim to serve them warm, rather than piping hot, with a little cream or ice-cream. Or, if the urge takes you, drown it in cream or custard. I don’t judge.

It’s also great if you have people round for dinner – the apples can be partly stewed and the sponge mixture prepared ahead of time. As your guests are about to eat the main, you can slip out, put the apples into individual ramekins, top with the cake mix and bake. Your domestic god/goddess organisational credentials will be sure to impress.

To make Eve’s Pudding (serves 6):

• 8 apples, peeled and cored.
• 4-5 tablespoons sugar
• Squeeze lemon juice
• pinch of ground cinnamon
• 125g butter
• 100g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 100g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 2-3 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Chop the apples into chunks. Put into a saucepan with a few spoons of sugar, the lemon juice and the 25g of the butter. Cook gently until the apples are starting to soften (they should not be mushy). Remove from the heat. Place int a deep oven dish or divide between six individual ramekins. Place to one side.

To make the topping, put the remaining 100g of butter plus the sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla and eggs into a bowl, and mix until well-combined and creamy. Add as much milk as necessary to make a the batter light, smooth and soft – it should drop gently off the back of a spoon, but should not be runny.

Pour the batter over the apples, and spread it out until roughly even. Don’t obsess about this, as part of the charm (particularly with the ramekins) is that you get gaps where the apple peeks out. Put in the oven and bake until the topping is just golden and the sponge topping is springy (10-15 minutes for ramekins, 25-30 minutes for a single dish).

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Serve warm with cream, creme fraiche, yoghurt or ice-cream.

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Apple Pancakes

Ah, weekend. I love a lazy Saturday morning with a big breakfast and a chance to slowly flick through the papers, annoying fellow breakfast eaters by pointing out stories of interest at regular intervals. My breakfast of choice often involved piling the dining room table high with jams, spreads, cheeses, butter, vegetables, bread and gallons of coffee, and of course a generous stack of pancakes.

I normally make little pancakes, so that you can have lots of them with different toppings, but from time to time, I also like to mix things up and make them with fruit, either blueberry, apple or ripe banana. This apple version is nice as the apple becomes warm, but says firm, and still has some texture in the finished dish. I also add a decent pinch of cinnamon, so there is a little spiciness in there, but not too much. And of course, they are utterly delicious covered in salty butter and a lot of golden syrup. Perfect to set you up for the day when you have lots of activities planned.

I’ve made this recipe several times, and while it is of course delicious if you make the batter and cook it right away, it seems to be even better if you can let the batter sit for 20-30 minutes. The science behind this is to do with the wheat flour apparently absorbing the liquid and becoming softer, resulting in a better pancake, and while I don’t know if this is really what happens, the resting time just seems to work. So get up, make the mixture, lay the table, wake the rest of the house, buy a paper, then cook them. Perfect Saturday morning.

What’s your favourite breakfast pancake? Are you for plain or fruit, and what do you like to put on them?

To make 8 apple pancakes:

• 115g self-raising flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 25g butter
• 1 egg
• 150ml milk
• generous pinch of cinnamon
• 1 apple, peeled and diced

Mix the flour, baking powder and cream of tartar in a bowl, and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Next, beat in the egg, cinnamon and enough milk until the mixture resembles double cream (i.e. it should flow a little bit, but it should not be runny). Fold in the pieces of apple.

Heat a non-stick pan on a high heat, and once hot, turn down to a medium heat and leave for a minute. Once the pan is ready, put spoonfuls of the mix in the pan (I put two in a large frying pan). Bubbles will form on the top. Once the burst (but the top of the pancake is still “wet”) turn the pancakes over and cook for a moment until they are also golden.

Serve with butter and a good drizzle of maple or golden syrup.

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Lebkuchengewürz

For quite some time I have been promising/threatening loyal readers that I would make a start on Christmas baking. So here goes.

I think that cookies, cakes and all manner of sweet treats are a big part of the festive season, and I particularly like anything German in this regard. Lots of sweet, spicy cookies, flavoured with citrus and honey, which go well with glasses of hot mulled wine. But, before we start on the actual baking, we need to prepare something that features in a lot of German Lebkuchen.

You might think by way of spices a spoonful of cinnamon and  dash of nutmeg will do to trick, but just as Germans take their Christmas markets to the next level, so they do with their cookies and how they spice them up. The secret is Lebkuchengewürz, or Lebkuchen spices. This mixture is indeed made with mostly cinnamon, but with the addition of a few other strategic spices: ground coriander seeds, aniseed, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and a pinch of paprika. This makes for a warm, fragrant spice mixture, which is in turn woody, sweet, fresh and spicy. The trick is for these other flavours to be present, but not to dominate. And what you end up with is something that is the very aromatic essence of Christmas.

If you are making this, one question is what sort of spices to use: pre-ground or whole?

Well, that could be the wrong question. The number one factor in making a good spice mixture is to use fresh spices. If they have been at the back of the cupboard since mid-2007 in an open packet, sure they will have some aroma and flavour, but they won’t pull their weight. And you who wants to be the one, Eastenders-style, who ruined Christmas, eh?

The next consideration is whether the grind or buy. There are some – star anise, nutmeg and cardamom – that I will do, as I have a useful Italian nutmeg grater which gets nutmeg and star anise into a fine dust (a useful gift, Miss E!), and a small marble mortar and pestle to grind cardamom or pepper. Once these are ground and sieved, you will have a great aromatic spice. But for tougher spices like cinnamon, coriander seeds or cloves, I go with the pre-ground stuff. I’ve tried attacking them with a grater and a coffee grinder, and while they will fill your kitchen with fabulous smells, they finished result is never as fine as when you buy it.

The big question: how it is as a spice mixture? Well, I find it really useful to have in the kitchen. Great at Christmas, obviously, but it can be used throughout the year in all manner of fruit cakes or chocolate dishes to add an interesting dimension to the flavour. And I can really recommend making truffles with Lebkuchengewürz – they truly taste like Christmas!

So, with the mixture made, I will shortly start on making all manner of sweet treats. In fact, there are a tray of Pfeffernüsse in the oven already. Mmmm…

To make Lebkuchengewürz:

• 5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
• 1/8 teaspoon ground aniseed or star anise
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• pinch of paprika

Put all the spices in a bowl, and mix well. Pass through a fine sieve to get rid of all lumps and ensure the spices are properly mixed. Store in an airtight container in a dark place until needed.


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Quince Jelly

If there is one things that I really don’t need in my house, it is more jam. I have a rather mad tendency to make lots of it, all summer and autumn, and in far greater quantities than we can eat it. Bramble, apricot, cherry and quince all line my shelves. And we don’t mention the disasters involving rowan berries and sloes…but we all have mishaps in the kitchen from time to time!

So…quinces are in season…and I just couldn’t resist the lure of making quince jelly. I mean, the colour alone is amazing, right?

The reason I like preserves is they capture the flavours of otherwise ephemeral fruit. The fruit is edible right now, but if you left it sitting for a week or two, it would turn bad. But boil it up with sugar, and it will stay good for a long time. I am just finishing the last jar of bramble jelly made from with forest fruit from a trip to Epping Forest last autumn. But that is nothing – back home, my mother stored jars of jam that were several years old. Little pots of sugary Victoria plum and raspberry, all celebrating multiple birthdays in the requisite cool, dark place.

Some foodies might think that jam should be eaten within a month or so of being made, but for me, that misses the point. It is a means of preserving fruit, and as such, the longer you can make it last, the better, all the better when it brings back some happy memories of almost-forgotten warm, sunny days.

At the weekend, I got hold of quinces in a local fruit shop. I picked out eight choice specimens, and brought them home with the intention of making quince jelly. I had a successful go at quince jam at the end of spring with some Turkish quinces, but now their English cousins have appeared in the shops here, so I wanted to try making jelly.  I always think of jam and jelly as sisters. The former prim and proper, wholesome and honest, whereas the latter is louche, flashy, complex and tricky, but all the more dazzling for it. A lot more work, but a lot more fun.

I digress. Quince jelly. Actually, sourcing the fruit was not as easy as I thought. Two weekends ago, I saw them everywhere, in all the posh food shops in Shoreditch. This weekend – nada, very hard to find. My shopping companion was not quite sure what they looked like, and kept producing giant apples and pears to ask if they were quince. In desperation, we tried Wholefoods. “Is that quince?” he asked. “No, it’s a persimmon” I replied. “This one?” in a hopeful tone. “No, that’s an Asian pear“. Patience (and hope) running out. I was getting despondent, but pressed on. Then finally, a whole crate! I was initially put off by how dusty they seemed to be. Surely they had been sitting somewhere for too long? Then I remembered that quince have an odd habit of developing a strange bloom on their skin, perfectly harmless, and this natural fuzz is easily removed with a little water.

Fruit sourced, I returned home and got cooking. A boon (the only boon) in making jelly is that you don’t need to make the fruit presentable before cooking it. Just remove stalks and cores, then shred everything. Boil up with some water, then strain overnight to extract the fruit juice. In the end, our kitchen looked a little worse for wear, pans and dishes everywhere, and bits of shredded quince stuck to just about every possible surface and utensil. But by early evening, the juice extraction was underway in the corner, an upturned stool holding a bowl and two teacloths balanced on a wooden stick. All went fine until I decided to poke it with a wooden spoon, at which point lots of sticky quince juice leaked out, onto the floor and some seeped down between the floorboards. I am hoping no damage done…lesson learned: don’t poke things with sticks unless you’re prepared for the fallout.

The next day, I had ended up with 2.5 litres of quince juice, which I was pretty happy with. I did the maths to work out how much sugar I needed, and came up with the eye-popping amount of 2kg. It looks a lot when you see it in a bowl, and you think it is way too much, but remember – jam and jelly making is a bit of a science, so playing with ingredients can make things go awry. Placing my faith in science, I added the sugar and the juice of two lemons to the quince juice, and started to cook up the (by now 3.5 litre) brew.

Well, this was certainly not one of those “bring to the boil, simmer for a minutes and it’s done” recipes. No, I found myself still standing over the stove and testing jelly samples an hour after the mixture reached boiling point.

I tried using a candy thermometer to find out when we reached the magic jelling point, but my brew was having none of it. The thermometer said all was good, but it was still obviously a very runny syrup. At that stage, my blind faith in science ran out, and I went back to the good old trick of using a cold plate and seeing if a drop of jelly wrinkled when you push it. It finally got there, and I was really quite relieved, as I did think I might have to come up with a use for 2 litres of quince cordial. Hmmm…I wonder how a Quincehattan would work?

Feeling a sense of pride that me and my mixture got there in the end, I bottled it up, and was finally able to enjoy the rewarding sight of nine jars of the most beautiful deep amber jelly. Sweet and with an aromatic quince flavour. It’s going to be great for brightening up those chilly winter mornings. Hard work, but utterly worth it.

To make quince jam:

• quinces (I used 8 )
• lemons
• water
• granulated white sugar

Wash the quinces. Remove the stalks and cores, but leave on the skin. Grate coarsely.

Put the quince into a large saucepan, press down lightly, and cover with water until the level is about 2-3cm above the fruit. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 50-60 minutes until the quince is tender. Mash the fruit to extract maximum flavour. If it seems a little too solid, add more water – we want the texture of soft applesauce.

Pour the mixture into a sterile tea towel or muslin cloth(*). Tie the edges together, and – being careful – use a string to attach the cloth to an upturned chair. Place a large bowl under the cloth, and leave overnight for the juice to drip through. Don’t squeeze the cloth, otherwise you end up with cloudy jelly (tastes the same, but looks less pretty), and in this recipe, you won’t be going short of juice.

Next day, measure the juice – for every 600ml of juice, add 500g of sugar, and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Add everything to a large heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat until the setting point(**) is reached – which can be anything from 10 minutes to an hour!

Finally, pour the hot jelly into sterile jam jars(***), seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilse the cloth, put into a sieve, and pour over boiling water.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on a very cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jelly wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

(***) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

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Autumn Days and a Mushroom-Barley Pilaf

Ah, those crisp autumn days! We hanker after bright sun of summer or the fresh mornings in spring, but I love the crisp, bright autumn days we are enjoying at the moment.

Summer is well and truly over, but produce-wise, you are still able to enjoy a good range of quite interesting and exciting things. And enjoy it you should, because this is that last, final celebration before the darkness of winter creeps upon us. Brrrr!

Just to make the point, here are a few shots that I have taken recently, and I think they convey the mood quite well. Autumn colours with sunlight streaming through yellow leaves, berries and crab apples a-plenty, and a few interesting looking things at local farmer’s markets. I knew about heirloom tomatoes, but I have now learned about heirloom carrots!

To go with this time of year, I have tried my hand at a pilaf dish, but based on barley. It’s a grain that you don’t often see on menus, which is a bit of a shame. It was one of the first grains that were grown in Europe, so it has pedigree, but it is also very tasty. For me, it is what makes a decent bowl of broth, adding a bit of chewiness, but keeping its shape, unlike the tendency of rice to self-destruct and turn to mush after too long in soup stock.

I think this recipe works because it successfully pairs the “earthy” quality of barley with mushrooms to make a rich, warm and filling winter dish. In some ways, it is very much like a risotto, but the finished results is also quite different. The grains of barley soften but do not turn to mush, keeping a little bit of bite and chewiness, so there is more texture than in a risotto. There is also no cream or cheese in the pilaf, so it makes it filling but not heavy. And one of the big attractions to a busy home cook is that rather than the stir-stir-stir method of good risotto, you cook onion and barley in a little olive oil, then add everything else and allow to simmer gently for 45 minute. Job done.

To make Mushroom Barley Pilaf (serves 4):

• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 240g barley
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 200g mushrooms, roughly sliced
• 2 spring onions, sliced
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Parmesan cheese, to serve

Heat the oil in a saucepan on a medium heat. Add the onion and fry until soft and translucent. Add the barley, and cook for two minutes until it is toasted (you will have to stir all the time to stop it burning).

Add the stock, mushrooms, spring onions, thyme and black pepper. Stir well and simmer for 45 minutes until the barley is tender and the stock has been absorbed.

To serve, fluff the pilaf a little with a fork. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

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Cinnamon Teacakes

Still resisting Christmas baking urge…

Autumn days mean autumn flavours, and what could be more autumnal than cinnamon? Well, probably pumpkin, but at the weekend, I thought it would be smart to wait until after Halloween, then pick them up cheap, he he. So on Sunday, I stayed with my favourite spice, cinnamon.

To make something a little special, I used my rather fetching canelé mould, but so far, have not used it for baking. I do promise at some stage to make proper canelés, but they seem rather tricky, so I might set aside an afternoon to make them properly. And this is how I decided to make my new cinnamon teacakes. I have to confess that the idea of using this mould for teacakes it not my own, but comes from a post on the Cannelle & Vanille blog, which I had to admit I tend to look at more for the pictures than with a view to making the recipes, she’s such a professional! If pretty little brown butter cakes can be made in bundt pans, why not use my canelé mould? I seemed so obvious once it was pointed out!

I thought about using cupcake batter or normal sponge cake for this recipe, but settled on my recipe for madeleines. But in the interests of experimentation, I made a few tweaks to the recipe. First, I replaced some of the flour with ground hazelnuts to add an extra flavour and some texture to the cake. In an ideal world, I would have used hazelnuts with the skin still on to provide little brown specks in the cakes, but I settled for the blanched hazelnuts in the kitchen cupboard. Next, I added two tablespoons of hazelnut oil to the butter, just to add to the nutty aromas. Finally, and most unsurprising of all, I added a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. This seemed like the right amount, so there was a waft of spice, but it should not be too intense. I planned to roll the finished teacakes in cinnamon sugar, so the batter did not need to have too much cinnamon in it.

After all my hard work, I am very pleased with these little teacakes. Aromatic and sweet, they hold their own against fancy baked goods laden with icing. They have quite a firm texture, which I quite like compared to the usual soft crumb of cupcakes.

Out of interest, I will try making a sponge cake version of these by way of comparison, but for the moment, I am happy with this newly made-up recipe, and they will certainly be gracing the table next time I organise an afternoon tea. I can just hope that I can make teacakes that look as pretty as those on Cannelle & Vanille!

To make 12 cinnamon teacakes:

• 80g butter
• 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
• 2 eggs
• 85g grams caster sugar
• Large pinch salt
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
• 30g ground hazelnuts
• 80g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 30g granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, to coat

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Remove from the heat, stir in the hazelnut oil, and allow to cool.

Put the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla extract (if using) in a bowl. Whip for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes light and thick.

Combine the flour, ground hazelnuts, ground cinnamon and salt and baking powder and sift. Add the flour mixture to the eggs and stir lightly with a spatula until combined.

Add the cooled liquid butter and incorporate using a spatula. Let the batter rest in the fridge for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Fill the tray with the batter and cook for 15 minutes, until the cakes are lightly browned.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool completely. Remove from the tray, and roll each one in the granulated sugar/cinnamon mixture. Store in an airtight container.

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